For awhile now I've been running with this concept that everything you experience with your six senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and mental thoughts) creates little pathways in your brain. You hear a new song on the radio – BAM – that's a new pathway. The more you hear the same lyrics over and over again the wider, deeper, and stronger that pathway becomes. Suddenly you have all of the lyrics to Adele's “Hello” memorized whether you like the song or not.
The only way to change that pathway is to stop accessing it. You've got to turn off the radio. Just like a path in the forest. If everyone stops using it the forest creeps in from the edges and suddenly it's not even there anymore. All those pop songs I had memorized from the 90's - just not really in my head anymore.
I talk to my kids about this during homeschool lessons all the time now. They get anxious and upset whenever they are trying to learn something new. I tell them that there is no reason to expect to know something the first time around. You have to have seen it, read it, and heard it enough to create a strong pathway that will last. Tests are just a way to see if you've experienced something enough times to have a firm pathway. Physical activities are the same way. You don't ride a bike or play an instrument the first time you pick it up. But with practice, your body and your mind learn how to do it. The only thing that makes you any different from the greatest athlete, the smartest scientist, or the most talented artist – is PRACTICE.
Now here's the problem.
How much of what our six senses experience in any given day is controlled by media? How much of what we see and hear is controlled by people that want you to give them your money? How much are you being told you are not skinny enough, not attractive enough, not successful enough, not popular enough, and not smart enough? How often are you told that to have a good time you need to look a certain way, drink a certain drink, eat a certain food, and be somebody you are not?
What about love, compassion, kindness, generosity, empathy, and joy for living a good life? Why are these values so often missing from our daily consumption?
We may think we can't do anything about the programming we have but the reality is, we can change it just by changing what our six senses are exposed to on a daily basis. If you were to feel love, see compassion, hear kindness, think about equality, taste healthy foods, and smell the fresh clean air every day - it would change who you are. It just takes practice and before you know it your old thoughts become overgrown with good thoughts, healthy habits, and strong pathways.
Whatever it is you want to do - stop eating sugar, learn how to play the violin, be kinder to your kids and spouse, or even learn about quantum physics - the only thing you have to do is practice.
So, why not start right now?
To Your Health!
Iron deficiency anemia is a very common problem, which is why iron is often added to foods such as iron-fortified cereals and infant formulas as well as supplements.
Babies are born with iron stored in their bodies but because they grow so fast they need more than what can be stored. Babies between 9 months and two years of age are at the greatest risk for anemia if they are not being breastfed or have natural sources of iron in their diet such as liver, red meat, pork, seafood, beans, and dark leafy greens. Even if they are breastfed, it is important that mom has these foods in her diet for her baby to benefit.
The problem with supplementing with iron-fortified formula, cereal, or vitamins is that the side-effects often can be just as bad if not worse. Constipation is the most common side-effect but occasionally there can be diarrhea and gastrointestinal inflammation. Iron supplements may even be an underlying contributing factor to gut dysbiosis. Too much iron can also be poisonous to children under six years of age.
So what is going on? Why do iron supplements cause constipation and gut inflammation when foods high in iron do not?
Most iron supplements are simple salts like iron fumarate, iron gluconate, or iron sulfate. But iron compounds are not bioavailable in an aerobic environment. So some supplements use chelates like iron bis-glycinate to make the iron more soluble.
Unfortunately, even with these efforts to make iron more bioavailable, the rapid pH changes in the digestive tract (from acidic pH in the stomach to more neutral in the small intestine) will cause the iron to become insoluble. Any iron that isn't absorbed (which can be as much as 70% in some supplements) can cause inflammation in the gut due to a process called redox cycling, which creates free radicals. Any remaining iron travels to the lower bowel where it feeds iron-loving pathogenic bacteria leading to lower levels of beneficial bacteria, constipation, diarrhea and more inflammation.
In contrast, iron found in our diet comes in the form of ferritin, a protein-bound form of tiny iron oxohydroxide particles found in both plant and animal tissue. Ferritin doesn't dissolve in the digestive tract but is absorbed through the gut wall and is carried directly into the cells where the iron is released through enzymatic processes from lysosomes making it available for use by the cell. Ferritin doesn't cause inflammation in the gut and bacteria cannot absorb it the same way so it doesn't have the side effect risk.
That has led some scientists to try and make a better iron supplement called IHAT. In the meantime food sources of iron remain the most effective at reducing iron deficiency anemia with the least harmful side effects.
Recovery from the side effects of iron supplementation should include probiotics, Vitamin C, and food rich in Antioxidants.
Last Christmas I got myself a rather large book called "Essential Oil Safety" by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young (I know I'm such a nerd) and the information in this classic textbook has been eye opening to be sure.
Essential oil use has grown in popularity but there is a lot of misinformation out there and a potential for some people to get hurt. Yes, essential oils are natural (because they come from plants) but that does not mean they cannot hurt you. They are concentrated chemical substances created by passing steam through huge amounts of plant material to collect the volatile oils. These chemicals enter the body the same ways other chemicals do: through inhalation, through the skin and mucosa, or by ingesting them. Once in the body the individual molecules are metabolized just like any other chemical and are excreted just like any other chemical.
In the body, all organic compounds are metabolized, meaning they are made into different substances (that have their own biological actions) and then are removed in a form the body can handle. Different chemicals are metabolized by different routes and at different rates. The liver is the most important organ for this by dividing substances into so-called Phase I and Phase II reactions. How much essential oil you use, the type of oil, the mode of absorption, and the rate at which it is metabolized all determine whether or not it is safe.
Here's an example of the chemical profile of one sample of tea tree oil from the book:
Ledene (viridiflorene) 1.8%
This chemical profile would be different depending on the country of origin and maybe even the particular farm where it is harvested. The standard for Terpinen-4-ol in tea tree oil is 30-48%. But a recent batch I purchased has between 46-52%. Terpinen-4-ol is what makes tea tree oil... tea tree oil. But it is also found in sweet marjoram, juniperberry, rosemary and other essential oils in lower percentages.
The safety data on Terpinen-4-ol states:
"Terpinen-4-ol appears to be non-irritant and non-allergenic, and possesses "slight" toxicity. It is not mutagenic, and has demonstrated in-vitro anti-tumoral activity.
That's just one chemical constituent in tea tree oil that has it's own metabolic pathway to follow before it is gone from the body.
I've got some awesome news!
I'm excited to announce that I will be changing the bottling for my essential oils. I'm switching to the industry standard of the European 5mL and 15mL amber bottles. Remember that the color of the bottle doesn't necessarily matter, I just like the look of the brown. The bottles will have a dropper top to lessen the risk of accidental spillage or poisoning (children are less likely to be able to drink the oil with a dropper top). Up until this point my stance has been that I don't like plastic touching the oils and that is why we have always used the solid tops and given out a dropper top with each purchase. I'm changing my stance based on this safety information. The type of plastic used in these dropper tops are also less likely to degrade than other types of plastic so we just have to do the best we can.
I will also have new labels for the bottles. I like the essential oil supplier we have because of their transparency. I know the genus species name of my oils, whether it is cold pressed or steam distilled, the part of the plant it comes from, and the country of origin. I also know the main chemical class and I can easily get the chemical profile if I wanted. I want to pass all of this information on to you by including it on the label so you can know your oils too!
I'm also including safety data on the labels. These are the possible safety warnings you will see:
Keep Out of Reach of Children - You will see this warning on almost all of the essential oil bottles. The only time I will not be using this warning is if the oil has GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status and no other warnings at all. This means even if a child manages to get the dropper top out of the bottle and drinks the entire contents or spills it all over their body, it won't hurt them. There are only six single oils with this level of safety!
Keep Away from Open Flame - Essential oils are volatile oils. They are flammable. Every one of them. So every bottle will contain this warning.
Not for use in children under the age of 6 - Oils with this warning are dangerous for children even if they are only applied topically. Many are neurotoxic if applied to the face or nostrils of children. Some will cause respiratory dysfunction. This includes many oils commonly believed to be safe for children such as Eucalyptus and Peppermint.
Do not apply undiluted to any part of the body - This warning is for oils that can cause skin sensitization. Some oils, such as those containing limonene, only cause skin irritation if the oil has oxidized or if it is old. But since I can't control how long that essential oil will be sitting on your bathroom shelf, I don't know how old it will be when you go to use it. So these oils still get the warning.
May cause photosensitivity - If these oils are applied to the skin in large amounts, the skin should not be exposed to sunlight or sunbed rays for 12 hours. Old or oxidized oils with this warning in particular become more phototoxic.
Do not use if pregnant or nursing - This is pretty self explanatory.
For external use only - This warning is just to be extra cautious. While many of these oils can be taken internally in small amounts by adults, they can be poisonous or cause major organ damage if taken in large amounts. Don't let some other essential oil companies fool you into thinking that all of their oils (and only their oils) are safe for consumption. Some are safe and some are not. It all depends on the oil and the chemical makeup, not the company selling it.
If ingested contact poison control - This warning is particularly for children. The oils that get this label are absolutely toxic to kids and if they manage to drink the bottle's contents it may cause nausea, coma or even death. Don't mess around with this friends. Be safe and if you have kids you may not even want to keep these oils in the house.
GRAS - Finally I will label all of those oils that have GRAS status. That does not mean however that they will not have some other potential warning though.
This is something I've been wanting to do for a long time now so I'm really excited to be able to put this into effect. I just got the new bottles in yesterday and I'm waiting to get my new labels for printing early next week.
I know many of you were disappointed to see the shop close down because you liked having easy access to some high quality essential oils at a decent price. The good news is, you can still get these oils but it will have to be through special order for now. So feel free to contact me if you would like to place an order. Check out the products page for a listing of the oils I carry.
To Your Health!
This June 21st will mark the 4th anniversary of opening the doors to Elder & Sage, our family-owned herb and remedies shop. Back in 2010 when I first sat down with my parents to discuss opening a business together I don't think any of us could have imagined how things would have happened. In just six short months we left our long term employers, moved four generations of family members from two different cities and started our own business. Since then I have worked with over 500 clients and customers. It has been quite a ride!
My parents are now ready to retire and they deserve it. After 45 years of employment in various retail positions throughout the country – it's time. So, this year I have had some very hard thinking to do:
Could I run both the shop and do my naturopathic consultations?
Is the shop capable of supporting outside employees?
Can I afford to invest the time required to own and operate a retail store?
Perhaps you can see where this might be going. The truth of the matter is my answer to all of these questions is “no”. I love having the shop to work out of but the time investment to manage it on my own is just not feasible. I feel that the time spent managing a retail store would detract from my ability to consult with and research for my clients which is my first priority. I just cannot do it without Mom and Dad.
So, on Friday, May 22nd the shop portion of Elder & Sage will be closing. The business name, website, and Facebook page will continue to be run by me but only for the purposes of my natural health consultations and client education. I will be moving my office into my home and my husband will be handling his CSA and herd-share delivery service out of our home as well. I will maintain relationships with some of our current vendors to supply my clients with the supplements they need and may be able to offer certain product (such as essential oils) through this website at a later date.
Please know that if you have had a health consultation with me in the past or would like to set one up, I will continue to be available for appointments out of my home or by phone/Skype, and email – that will not change. I will be happy to direct you to sources for any of the supplements and retail items you have come to rely on. I will also continue to teach at the Naturopathic Institute of Therapies and Education in Mt. Pleasant and take on students and interns for apprenticeships when I am able. I also hope to offer more classes in the future so stay tuned for that.
The good news is, in many ways I will become more available than before as I attempt to blend my career and home life more seamlessly. So I like to think of this transition as an exciting new adventure and I look forward to continuing our work together on promoting and improving your health. Please feel free to contact me using the updated contact form above. Thank you so much for your loyalty and support these past four years and your continued support as we make this important life transition.
To Your Health!
Last year, I had an event that deeply shook me.
I've been studying the field of natural health now for almost fourteen years. I center most of my research around food and its effects on the body. I've studied just about every diet out there and formed all kinds of opinions based on other people's opinions. I advocate for a real food diet, less sugar, more fats from healthy animals, less commercial processing and knowing where your food comes from. I follow this diet myself and have enjoyed great health from it. I always imagined my lifestyle and understanding of natural health would shield me from any major illness and chronic disease. Then I got a wake-up call.
With no determinable trigger that I can find (though I am suspicious of certain supplements I was using at the time) I developed acute pain all over my body. It hurt to lift my arms, it hurt to walk, it hurt to do anything. I couldn't pick up my toddler, I couldn't change his diaper, I couldn't do anything but sit on the couch and wonder what the heck happened. My thyroid was swollen but it didn't conform to any of the typical symptoms. I work with people with thyroid problems on a regular basis so I knew what to look for but I was still surprised that it was happening to me.
I had no idea at the time if this pain was going to be permanent. I watched my husband play with my kids and wondered if I'd ever be able to do that again. For three days I suffered physically and emotionally. Then finally the swelling in my thyroid went down and my pain slowly disappeared. I must have had some muscle damage too as it took another week before my full strength returned.
At first I was really cautious with my diet because I wasn't sure what triggered the event. I cut out all gluten, dairy, and nightshade vegetables. I went back to a GAPS style diet but I still felt like I was in the dark and that was not a comfortable place for my mind to be. I'm a naturopath! I help people every day! I should know what to do! I shouldn't be having this problem!
We all say that we know we won't live forever. But deep down inside I think we all are hoping anyway. We act out each day according to our whims and fancies telling ourselves that we'll eat better later, we'll exercise later, we'll take time to de-stress later. And then we get a wake up call. We get diagnosed with some chronic disease or have an injury or watch a loved one die and suddenly we realize that... we weren't as invincible as we thought.
And it's easy to forget. As soon as the pain was gone it was hard to remember what it had been like and I started to drift towards my previous habits again. I was less careful with my food, I started ignoring my body signals again. Maybe it was all just some random fluke? But I knew this slippery slope all too well. This event was my epiphany and here is what I learned from it:
Far greater than any dietary philosophy from some charismatic guru or highly degreed doctor is listening to your body... not your brain.
REALLY listening. DEEP listening. PAYING ATTENTION.
Do you know what it feels like to be hungry? When was the last time you allowed yourself to really feel it? Have you ever put a bite of food in your mouth and paid attention to its subtle flavors as it changes from the chemical reactions in your saliva while you chew? Have you ever paid attention to the minute sense of satiation that comes before the physical sense of a full belly? Have you ever let your body tell you what it wants to eat, how it wants to move?
Deep listening is not an easy thing to do but with practice it can become a valuable tool for navigating your health. Muscle response testing (also known as kinesiology) is one form of deep listening but I think one can go much deeper than that. Especially since it is so easy for our brains to skew our muscle testing results.
If you pay careful attention to your body's cues for hunger, you can determine what food and nutrients it requires at any one moment in time. When you first start this practice it helps to have simple ingredients of real food. Try foods with varying levels of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. Eat the food you think your body is calling for and see if it leaves you feeling satisfied or if you are still missing something. Eating can become such a brainless activity as we talk, read, flip through our phone, etc. that we don't even remember tasting our food by the time it's all gone.
Deep Listening can also extend to the way you move. During my last pregnancy with my son I developed my own form of exercise routine based on previous experiences with myofascial unwinding and Katsugan. Sitting quietly I would pay attention to all the little aches and pains in the different areas of my body and move in such a way to gently stretch and relieve these pains. Slowly and carefully with my eyes closed my movements would often resemble a sort of slow-motion dance. Practicing this technique eventually led to me using it during my labor - resulting in a beautiful intuitive labor dance that helped my body work my son into this world with less pain and stress than my two previous (but equally beautiful) births.
What would it be like if we could spend each moment of our lives deeply and intuitively listening to our body's needs for movement and nutrition instead of casually and even intentionally ignoring our basic body signals? What if we extended this deep listening into our everyday interactions with other people?
I wrote this post shortly after that episode of pain and have purposefully been sitting on it ever since. Today I come back to it looking for inspiration and I think it is time to share. For myself I hope to rekindle some of this spirit and get back to some deep listening.
To Your Health,
Breastfeeding eczema is a term I came up with to describe those babies that have eczema even though they are exclusively breastfed, which has been reported to reduce the risk of childhood eczema and doesn't seem to make logical sense if breastmilk is the best food for infants.
As a Naturopath, I have worked with many clients over the past 10 years on this issue and have had some success and some failures. It is a difficult issue so I want to cover what I know all in one post for reference.
Recently I came across an article that suggested that breastfeeding for the first two years of life was found to prevent atopic dermatitis in infants if the mother did not have allergies or asthma. Results were not significant in mothers with allergies and there was no protection if the mother had asthma. So we have here the confirmation that the infant's eczema is related to the mother's health.
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of the book Gut & Psychology Syndrome describes the connection as such:
"Babies are born with an immature immune system. Establishment of normal gut flora in the first 20 or so days of life plays a crucial role in appropriate maturation of the baby's immunity. As these children acquire abnormal gut flora (from their mothers) they are left immune-compromised."
This gut dysbiosis leads to a damaged gut wall and toxins, microbes and undigested foods enter the body causing physical problems in the child such as eczema and asthma.
I believe that the connection may go a little bit deeper. In a mother with a compromised gut system and intestinal permeability there are undigested proteins and endotoxins from pathogenic forms of bacteria leaking into her bloodstream. Her immune system actively works to eliminate these pathogens. These immune compounds such as histamine, cytokines, etc. get into her breastmilk. Because the mother's body is training the infant's immune system through her breast milk the baby's immature immune system responds to the cascade of immune complexes resulting in the eczema. Even if the baby itself does not have poor gut bacteria and intestinal permeability, their body reacts as if it does due to the mother's immune complexes in her milk. This causes inflammation and irritation that may result in further health complications. I do not currently have studies to support this theory but I will continue my informal research to see what I can find.
These are the characteristics I see from these children:
I have worked with many clients as a GAPS Practitioner through the GAPS diet in trying to heal the mother's gut dysbiosis. There has been some success with this approach depending on the severity of the mother's issues. Mothers who have other complications such as glandular imbalances due to gut dysbiosis will often have a harder time.
I am suspicious that the severity of this problem and the drastic increases in numbers may also have other environmental factors influencing it. I have been following the potential impacts of the following:
I have started an online support group through Facebook for parents so that I can more thoroughly research the common factors tied to this issue. I also hope it will help provide parents with ideas for ways to cope with symptoms.
To Your Health,
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.